Take it Away: Discover the Magic of Erasers

August 17, 2017

Used for corrections, to remove sketched marks from a painting, and as a drawing medium in its own right, the seemingly simple eraser takes many forms in the hands of an artist. Since the first erasers became readily available over 170 years ago, this humble instrument has been developed to suit a multitude of media, papers, and techniques.

An eraser’s main function is to remove pigment from surfaces, normally graphite from paper. When you draw with a pencil, the fibres in your paper give the graphite particles something to stick to; the key with erasers is they are “stickier” than the paper. As you rub it across the marks on your surface, the heat produced by the friction slightly softens the eraser, allowing the medium to stick to the eraser, lifting it from the page. Most erasers are designed to crumble away when applied to the paper, taking the graphite with them.

Like many art materials, selecting a quality eraser that is designed for your chosen techniques and accompanying materials is key. Here’s the rub on the most common erasers you’ll see in the drawing aisle at Opus.

This classic from your elementary school pencil case is one tough cookie! Made from natural or synthetic vulcanized rubber and abrasives like pumice or silica, they can be a bit rough for most artistic uses, sometimes abrading the paper more than is desired. Reserve this classic tool for use on sketches rather than more polished drawings.

Originally made of rubber, today’s most commonly used art erasers are made of PVC, often referred to as vinyl. These modern wonders erase cleanly and a good quality one is gentle on your paper as well. Like those made of rubber, they will attract the pigment away from the paper fibres, trapping it in the eraser debris that crumbles away from the main form.

Most often available in white in both regular and soft, vinyl erasers come in multiple formats: regular, shaped, a pencil-like format that can be sharpened to a point, and in a retractable pen-style.

This extra soft eraser absorbs the graphite as it removes marks, taking the medium with it as it crumbles away. You’ll work your way through this eraser faster than you would a robust vinyl eraser but you’ll find it to be extremely gentle on paper, perfect for use on delicate surfaces like vellum or newsprint. An art gum eraser is ideal when removing pencil from watercolour paper, too, as it won’t abrade the surface, meaning your additional layers and glazing will be clean and clear.

Kneaded erasers are used for lifting colour from the page, rather than standard erasing. This malleable material can be shaped for precision removal – ideal for highlights and subtractive drawing techniques.

Its naturally sticky nature means friction is not required to remove the medium from your page. Simply pressing the eraser onto the page will absorb the particles. It also does not crumble with use; instead, it traps the pigment inside the eraser. With no eraser debris to wipe away, this is the ideal choice for otherwise easily smudged materials like charcoal and pastel.

To clean a kneaded eraser, stretch it apart and put it back together (knead it!) repeatedly to get a clean surface. Eventually, the eraser
will become saturated with the pigment; it will no longer lift but instead may smudge the paper. At that point, it has reached the end of its life and it is time to start with a fresh one! •

Helpful Tips:

  • Use a soft brush to remove the eraser crumbles left behind on your page after erasing a robust medium like graphite or coloured pencil. It will gently remove the debris without greatly disturbing your drawing.
  • For precision erasing, opt for an eraser in pencil format, such as the Faber-Castell Perfection Eraser, this way you can sharpen it to a fine point. You can get a similar effect from a small kneadable eraser formed into a cone shape.
  • Electric erasers are great for heavy lifting to help you get back to the white of your paper. It can even start to lift a waxy pencil like a Prismacolor, while not damaging the paper underneath.
  • Note that erasers don’t last forever. Over time, an eraser can soften or harden, making it less effective. If you find a favourite eraser is starting to rub you the wrong way, it is time to invest in a new one!